The Phoenix Suns got a full week off after beating the Denver Nuggets in the second round. They swept Denver in four games, but the other Western Conference series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz went six. The Suns had been idle for so long that the NBA forced the Clippers to play only 36 hours after finishing off the Jazz. The Clippers have now played 11 games in the past 21 days. Meanwhile, both second-round Eastern Conference series went the full seven games, so the Suns managed to build a 2-0 lead before the Bucks and Hawks even began their Eastern Conference finals series.
All of this is to say that no matter how optimistic you are about the Bucks or Hawks in a possible Finals matchup with the Suns, there is a good chance that Phoenix enters that series with far more rest. If the Suns complete a sweep of the Clippers on Saturday, which is very possible if Chris Paul returns, their series would end a full nine days earlier than Atlanta and Milwaukee's if it went seven games. In that scenario, Game 1 of the NBA Finals would begin on July 8 -- 12 days after the Suns would have theoretically played their last game on June 26.
That timeline may not be so extreme, but the broader point as you watch the Bucks and Hawks, keep in mind that there is another matchup looming, and just as Phoenix has taken advantage of its rest against the Clippers, the Suns would probably be fresher than their opponent in an NBA Finals matchup as well. Now, onto Wednesday's top picks.
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(3) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
- It would be hard to put too much stock into the regular-season games between these teams considering the injuries and roster changes that took place both before and since, but the fact that they averaged over 229 total points does make sense. The Bucks allow plenty of 3-pointers. The Hawks make their 3-pointers. The Bucks play drop coverage. Trae Young's floater will give Brook Lopez problems. Even when healthy, the Hawks have only one reliable wing defender in De'Andre Hunter. He's out, and that puts Atlanta in a dangerous position against Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. The defenses will improve throughout the series, but expect offense to be the key early on. The pick: Over 226
- Kevin Huerter's stock has risen tremendously after a great Game 7 against Philadelphia, but remember, Seth Curry defended him in that matchup. Now, he'll likely draw Khris Middleton. Huerter has topped this point total in only four of his 12 playoff games this season. Yes, he could get hot and punish a Bucks team that struggles to defend the arc, but the odds are against him without a weak link to pick on. The pick: Huerter under 12.5 points
- Brook Lopez averaged only five rebounds per game during the regular season, but saw that total jump to 7.4 in the Brooklyn series. That makes sense. The Nets are a small team. They ranked 22nd in offensive rebounding rate during the regular season and 23rd in defensive rebounding rate. The Hawks ranked sixth on offense and ninth on defense, and more importantly, there's a good chance the Bucks wind up closing this game with P.J. Tucker at center to prevent Young from scoring easy mid-range baskets. The pick: Lopez under 6.5 rebounds